Safety: Check Traffic! -Portland Bicycling Club

Safety: Check Traffic!

Do as I say, don’t follow my example…!

Upfront, I have to tell you it pains me a great deal to once again be the object lesson in my own safety article, but here goes.

Last August, I was visiting my brother, who lives in Englewood, Colorado. I figured to be there a couple of weeks; and the Denver area (except for those little hills a few miles west) is pretty flat, so naturally, I took my bicycle.   There are really good grade-separated bike (OK, multi-use) paths all over the area. I took several rides exploring these paths; and one, the Mary Carter Greenway Trail, follows the Platte River south from Englewood, where my brother lives. It connects to the C-470 Trail that roughly follows Colorado State Highway 470. These trails pretty much connect to a network of trails that form a bicycle beltway around the metropolitan area, so I was able to work out a nifty little 30-mile round trip down the Carter Trail and east on C-470.

On my first trip down there, I located a bike shop that had group rides out of their shop on Sundays, so I put in my name. A couple days later, I rode down again because I needed some new gloves and wanted to doublecheck the ride route to make sure I wasn’t getting into a ride full of Jeremys, Joels, and Coreys. I certainly did not want to get dropped on a ride in arid and strange country. Turned out, everything was A-OK. They said they kept a 13-15 MPH pace mostly, and it was a group ride – nobody gets dropped. So far, so good.


But on the way home C-470 crosses a couple of pretty busy arterials. South University Avenue is one of them. The crossing is protected by a light, but there are three lanes of traffic each way with a raised pedestrian island halfway across. You can see the bike trail just north of the highway and the traffic lanes. The picture doesn’t really show that, coming from the east as I was, there is a pretty good downhill just before the intersection. As I approached, going downhill and braking to hold the speed down to about 17-18 MPH, I could see another rider ahead of me waiting at the light to cross University Avenue. As I got close, he started across. I followed him about 20 feet back.

Remember how the club used to call out “Clear!” as a group of riders approached a cross street and no traffic was nearby? Well, we abandoned that because by the time riders a few seconds later got to the intersection, the situation might have changed. Also, it’s possible that the lead rider (the one who shouted “Clear!”) might have missed something, and riders behind might ride right into the path of a car. As a club, we now emphasize that all riders are responsible for their own safety at intersections. Each of us is responsible to check traffic for ourselves.

For some who have heard this story, and probably some of you who haven’t, you know where this is going. Because the rider in front of me went across, I foolishly assumed the light had changed. I did not look at the light for myself, and I did not realize that he was just shooting a gap in the traffic so he could get to the pedestrian island. Just as I crossed into the intersection, I glanced left and was more than a little dismayed to see three lanes of cars coming toward me. The speed limit is 45 mph through there, and I just was not going to make it. The car that hit me had just about stopped, and I had turned away enough that it hit my rear wheel just hard enough to knock me off my bike and total the rear wheel.

I had to buy a new wheel when I got back to Oregon, and I had only a tiny raspberry on my right elbow. The bike itself was undamaged, and I pretty much was too.

Moral? Pay attention, and be careful out there!

Dave McQuery, Member at Large